The Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the construction of a playground and splash park in the Capehart neighborhood.
About two dozen Capehart residents and Bangor Housing Authority employees attended the Tuesday meeting. Those who spoke told the board that their neighborhood was in dire need of a playground.
Joshua Hiatt, 38, a proponent of the park and father of three young girls on Moosehead Boulevard, said he has seen firsthand how difficult it can be transporting his children to a nearby park or pool. Capehart is fairly isolated, and not every resident has a vehicle.
“A lot of the amenities that we have in Bangor are very far from Capehart,” Hiatt said. “There is a huge population of young people there. You look at the positives, and it’s not really a question in my mind.”
“Capehart, let’s be honest, often gets stigmatized being out there and [because] it’s low income. This should be the start of things planned out there, not just the end of things.”
Bangor Housing Authority proposal is to build the playground on 2.65 acres in Downeast Circle on the west end of the 527-unit neighborhood, directly across from the housing authority headquarters and the community center on Davis Road. Plans include a playground for kids ages 2-12, a full-size basketball court, a splash park, outdoor exercise equipment for adults, a picnic pavilion and a 12-car parking lot.
The project approved Tuesday is a revised version of a plan the board initially rejected in June. It does not need to be approved by the City Council.
“The kids in this neighborhood don’t have other opportunities to access things like this. It would give them really safe alternative to basically being confined at home all day,” Bangor Housing Executive Director Mike Myatt said. He expects playground construction to begin later this month.
Of the approximate 3,000 families who live in Capehart, there are almost 700 kids under age 16, Renee Butler, resident services manager for Bangor Housing, told the Planning Board. Thirteen percent of the total Bangor public school population resides in the neighborhood, Superintendent Betsy Webb said.
The neighborhood now has no designated park or outdoor recreation area, other than nearby basketball courts and playground at Downeast School, which are only accessible during the summer and after the school day ends.
The project could cost up to $500,000, but it would be fully funded as a capital project with federal Housing and Urban Development money, Myatt said.
The playground will also be equipped with automatic lights that turn off at night to discourage use, security cameras, and a buffer of trees and other landscaping would separate the playground from the six abutting residences.
But 80-year-old Carole Saulnier, a private homeowner on Downeast Circle, which directly abuts the site, said that wasn’t good enough; the noise is already an issue.
When kids bounce basketballs nearby, it sounds “like someone is shooting up the front of my house.”
Saulnier, one of three neighbors who spoke in opposition of the playground location, pointed to the basketball court at Downeast School. “It isn’t like the children are totally stripped naked of activities,” she said.
“And what about vandalism? Is that an issue?” Saulnier said, adding that she was worried about the 12 elderly and disabled Bangor Housing tenants who live next to the site.
“Maybe somebody on this panel might have some consideration for the fact that these elderly people are someone’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers … is that what you would want for your family members in their later years?” she said. “We would love to see these children have all these wonderful things they’re looking for … but I don’t think that teeny 2-acre property is the place to make an investment.”
Joe Bethony, general legal counsel for Bangor Housing, responded, “They don’t get to choose what Bangor Housing does with its property.”
Planning Board member Kenneth Huhn, the only board member to comment on the project, said every other neighborhood in the city has a park, except Capehart.
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